Step Up Create

Lead your creative life

October 5, 2021
E05 – Dealing with frustration in a creative process
The Step Up Create Podcast
The Step Up Create Podcast
E05 - Dealing with frustration in a creative process

Show Notes

While dealing with a big creative frustration of our own, we thought we’d talk about frustration and the creative process. It’s inevitable that we become frustrated at some point in a creative process. So, why do we need it? How can we deal with it? And how does it help us to develop new and better ideas? 

In this episode, Katie Annice Carr discusses her personal experience with frustration in creative processes and how she has learnt to deal with it, as well as sharing some insights from others. Frustration is part of the creative process, sometimes all it takes is to acknowledge that.

Mentioned: “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer HMH books 2012.

“Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” Elizabeth Gilbert 2015.

“Grit: The power of passion and perseverance” Angela Duckworth Penguin 2016. 

Quote from Zandashé L’Orelia Brown, on Twitter. 

Hi everybody and welcome to this week’s solo episode. I had planned to talk about play thought it fitted really nicely with what we talked about last week with Naila, and I wanted to delve deeper into it because it is something I think is really important in life and in creative processes. However, this weekend. I have had a major issue with my website, and the whole thing basically crashed, and I’ve needed to spend a whole load of time, deleting files, finding out what’s wrong, redoing it, which has led me to have to postpone my story challenge, and just feel really really frustrated with this whole process, and just feel like I trying so hard to get out there and do these new things and listen to what people want or the market wants and just somehow, something keeps holding me back. And so I really started going down this route of frustration in the last few days and have only today really managed to start calling my way out of it. And so when I was thinking about recording the podcast this evening. I thought I really can’t talk about pay, but I can talk about frustration, and that is something that is equally important in a creative process. Now I know that you might think, Well, this is not as interesting as play raise you know that sounds like something I’d really like to hear more about more of my life. I don’t want more frustration in my life.

2:34  I don’t want more frustration in my life, either believe me, but I think it’s interesting how we can make the most of frustration make the most of any difficult situation. And this made me think a little bit about some traditional creative processes. And when I talk about creative versus some using it again in a very wide way and I use it to refer to how I’m building my business, and how I try and live my life at the same time I believe that life is a series of creative processes, and so we do go through these ups and downs as a normal part of life, and that without the doubt we can’t really get to the opposite. So I guess that’s a life learning that I have had, anyway. Life is a creative process. And if we look at a real simple creative process, such as when I create a painting. I start out with this, you know, great idea and you know, this whole thing that I want to express and I often kind of imagine it in my head, and then start the process, this is really great and then realise it’s not as easy as I thought it was, and I get to a point where it just looks shit, and I look at it and go, Okay, you’ve got a choice here paint over it or keep on trying to do what you’re trying to do and what I tried to do there is basically take some time to look at the details and see if there’s anything there that I really like. And that’s worth saving. 

When I’m doing this in a sensible way are step away from the piece of work, and then come back to it afterwards or maybe I’ll look at it in the mirror, or look at it through the phone just to get a different perspective on it so I find that I need to literally get a different perspective on the painting. And then I can come back and sort of think about it a bit more. However, if I’m not that careful. I can get to the point where I start thinking that I can’t paint and what am I even doing painting. Why, why would I even bother when there are other things that I could do that are more productive, or whatever else. And that’s where I get into sort of a vicious circle which I think is pretty normal with most of these processes. 

And the way that I get out of that is generally by continuing painting. And so but any painting. Starting out, it might be okay. Or I might get out of it, and eventually come to something that, that I think is acceptable or even good. And if I think it’s good, then I might even get round to showing it some people. The reason that I’m relating this is because I think it reflects quite clearly. What happens when I’m working on other creative processes, and also what I’ve seen with my students so often I take students through a creative process and these might be young people that are 25 something like that or there may be older people in companies I do both, and I’ve seen it in both. 

So we’ll often have been working towards to create something, whether that’s a work of art or a piece of theatre or even a final presentation. What I often find is that the teams that go through the biggest frustration that have the hardest time in the middle of the process are the ones that end up coming up with the best solutions, they come up with the most complex solutions or the most intellectual or the most aesthetic or whatever they come up with solutions that are a little bit further on, than the solutions and some of the other teams so there’s, there’s a sense that some conflict, and some frustration, leads to a better final product. And also when I’ve spoken to them, they tend to be proud of what they’ve achieved because they’ve gone through that suffering. Now I’m not saying that it is a good thing to go through suffering in life. I would definitely think that it is better not after suffering to just live a nice life. Sadly, I don’t know that many people who have just had everything perfect.

6:40  So all of this reminds me of a meme that goes around that you’ve probably seen, it’s really kind of cliche but I think it is actually true, the creative process. And this is the creative process is step one, this is awesome. Step two. This is tricky. Step three, this is shit. Step four, I am shit. Step five, might be okay. Step six, this is awesome. I like to think about this is it kind of puts a funny spin on what is really what happens in the creative process. And if you look at that, it’s kind of 80% in the frustration side. So, it’s interesting thing that creative processes are a lot about frustration. They’re a lot about overcoming, what’s, what is going on there, and continuing, either as a team or individually. This is something that Jonah Lira talks about, imagine how creativity works. And he says, 

“when we tell stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase, we neglect to mention those days where we wanted to quit when we believe that our problem was impossible. Instead we skip straight to the breakthrough, we tell the happy ending first before we can find the answer before we can know the question, we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach. We need to wrestle with the problem and last, because it’s only after we stopped searching that an answer may arrive”. 

That quote is maybe a little bit extreme that it’s really saying you have to push yourself right to the end, and then you can get something out of it and this would go quite far against what Naila was saying in Episode Four about joy, and connecting with joy. However, I think there’s a place for both of them. We can hold joy, and we can hold frustration, as we talked about in that episode as well. So, even Liz Gilbert who talks a lot about creativity and she tends to take a more sort of positive psychology approach to it. She says 

“if you want to be an artist of any sort, it seems to me, then that handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work, perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the word frustration is not an interruption of your process, frustration is the process.” So, we have to learn to deal with frustration. And one thing that I find hard is this idea of, enjoy the process, you’ll know enjoy the process enjoy the journey, enjoy that a lot. But you’ve also got to go through frustration and you know frustration is coming. And so there were moments where it’s really hard to enjoy the process, and be in frustrations, so this is what happened to me on Saturday, when I just came into my studio just quickly to finish a Facebook ad, and I checked out the website, and the whole thing was not working. I got talking to the support team, and they told me that add a massive virus and need to be taken down for a few days minimum. And that’s the website that all the signups go through that’s the website that I’m running the course on,

9:52  and how can I enjoy that process, I mean, I have learned some things about how I didn’t know how the website works behind the scenes. And I have also kind of probably learned that there are some things that I should probably leave for other people to do and not try and do myself. The challenge here for me is to enjoy this process to enjoy the frustration to be aware and to remember that the frustration is something that is good for the process is good for me. So this kind of kind of connects me with the idea of perseverance and grit, and this is something that, that’s been written a lot about, particularly by Angela Duckworth, and she wrote the book, Grit, which is well worth the read. And she defined grit, as perseverance and passion for long term goals, and she basically breaks it down into interest practice, purpose, and hope. And it’s about maintaining those so one of the things that I find important in a moment of frustration is to stick to your goals and try to try to continue to do what you’re going to do, I mean, there was definitely a moment on Saturday, where I just thought, fuck it. I don’t want to do this anymore. I am just going to give up the whole thing. I don’t want to get the website working anymore because it’s a whole load of work. And I just want it to work and if it doesn’t work, I’m going to walk away do something else pretty instantly realise that that wasn’t an option and that I needed to keep on with this, and it’s something that I’ve been working towards so there’s, there’s definitely an interest, there’s a practice which would be me continuing to do it, and a purpose behind it. The one thing I sometimes find hard is the part about hope. So keeping that hope going in the moment. And when that happens, I need to step away when I start feeling that it’s hopeless, and I also might start with a destructive train of thought which is the part in the process where it says I am shit. That part of how can I be so stupid. Why didn’t I believe more my ideas, and invest in a professional to do the website rather than doing it myself. There’s plenty of people who would do this way better than I would. All of these things that are not true and I know they’re not true. But that’s something I’ve been working on for quite a long time and it’s something that I see a lot in my coaching clients so a lot of this self demanding nature leads towards a very unkind way of speaking to oneself, and that’s something that we can change, but it’s very difficult when you’re in the middle of the really bad thing that’s happened, there’s another part of being kind to yourself, which is also being forgiving and say okay well yesterday, I did have a bit of a rant, and I did go off about, you know how I should just give up and get a proper job and all the rest of it. I didn’t really mean it, and I can forgive myself for that today, and that’s a step forward for me. I don’t want to get into therapy, particularly, but this is one of the ways that I deal with it. So one of the things that is important in the frustration is to try and avoid it becoming personal, it’s not that you are bad at what you are doing, or the creative thing that you are making it is that it is not working very well. At that point, that doesn’t mean that everybody is a wonderful artists where everybody can produce great music, but it means that if you want to produce great music, and you want to produce great art, you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to keep on doing it. And if you want to keep on doing it you can’t believe that you are rubbish at it and you should give up, because you will give up and you won’t continue. So there’s an element of perseverance, And there’s an element of practice. This idea again of continuing to do something, knowing that it’s not perfect, knowing that you’re striving for excellence but you’re not there yet. And just keep on going, I don’t find that bit so difficult. I’m kind of like a dog with a bone and sometimes probably too much in that. If I want to do something, I’ll just keep on doing it until it’s done. Even though I’m having a really bad time with it. So I guess my work for myself is to try and enjoy the process more surprise surprise, where whereas, I know that other people have more of a focus or need to have more of a focus on developing and practice. For me one of the ways that I get round this or ways that I overcome this frustration is to think about what I’m frustrated with so actually try and take some time, once I’ve had the rant actually take a moment to think that’s probably not

14:49  the issue here, what’s behind it, what’s truly behind it and what could be behind each of those things so is it a fear of failure. Is it a fear of what people might think usually there is a fear behind all of this. In my case I don’t think I’m afraid of failure, I think I’m I am concerned with what people might think, though, so there could be something of that in this, and there’s something about just not being good enough as how you define failure. So I remember when I was interviewing for law firms, way back when when I was first starting out my career. And in one of the interviews, the interviewer just said to me, it doesn’t seem like you ever failed you just move the goalposts. I was like, Yeah, that sounds okay to me. I didn’t realise that that was probably not a great thing, but anyway, I didn’t mind moving the goalposts, again I’m not recommending that for everybody. Yeah, the idea of sort of moving the goalposts can help you to reframe, what’s going on. So, being able to discover what you’re frustrated with what’s behind that frustration and it’s usually not directly yourself, what’s behind it what’s motivating it, and then thinking a bit more consciously about it often just being conscious of it will help you to feel that you can move on. What I also find really important is to do something else. So, this could either be keeping working on the same project but taking it to another space. So, you are trying to think about a way to resolve a character issue in a book or whatever you’re working on some kind of issue that needs to be resolved that seems to be stopping the whole thing. As we’ve said before going out for a walk, taking asleep, something like that can help, even though you’re still thinking about it at the same time. Equally, it can help quite a lot, if you just take a break and do what Stephen Fry says about letting the subconscious do its job. So, there’s also something about changing states, this is something I use quite a lot in expressive arts therapy, one of the things I love about expressive arts therapy is that it is not just defined to one art, So you could have someone you could be working through an issue with someone could be painting it, and you kind of realise that the client is not really getting any further, and you can switch it. So suddenly you can get the client to interpret it in a different way, maybe through movement may be through music and you often see I often see breakthroughs. When this happens, the same thing happens when you try and do this yourself, so you can take it somewhere else you can deal with it in a different way, you can step away from your desk from your computer from whatever it is from the painting, and think about it in some other space and that space for me quite often is a swimming pool. So, I quite often get to a point, especially with the YouTube channel, where I’m thinking about how can I put something authentic and useful and inspiring into five minutes or under, and I get to the point where I get really frustrated with it quite often, because I don’t want to just tell people what to do. I wanted to be a little bit more dynamic than that but it’s, it’s challenging, so I often go to the swimming pool, and plan on my youtube videos in the swimming pool, even when that means having a piece of paper and a pencil at the end of the swimming pool to write the ideas down before I forget them, and I just find that that helps a lot and there’s probably some physiological side to that as well that I’m actually exercising, and I’m not distracted by any phone or any other messages or anything like that. But I think a lot of people that I’ve spoken to and a lot of people I’ve worked with have the same thing. And the challenge is of course to find what is your creative activity, and this is an activity that isn’t creating something per se, but is an activity that helps you to be more creative to develop a more creative mindset, and that might be taking the dog for a walk. It might be reading a book, it might be watching Netflix, it might be doing lots of different things, where your mind is a little bit freer to discover what’s going on. The other thing that can help you get out of this frustration is to ask for help. Obviously, I’m saying it now and you can probably hear in my voice that I’m saying it and maybe not believing it or don’t come across as convincing as it is in some of the other things, It’s not because I don’t believe it, it’s just because I find it so bloody hard. So I’m really bad at asking for help, I tend to be super independent, and I know how to do lots of things so I try and fix them myself. When. Obviously there are other people like people I could pay to fix them, or just people friends who will be able to give me a different opinion or just open my mind up a little bit more. So, working on getting feedback from other people and collaboration can be really useful. Be careful though because you know there are some people in your life that you can show an unfinished piece of work to, and they will be encouraging and they will help you and you’ll feel great after speaking to them and they’ll probably give you more ideas, whereas there are other people in your lives, who may be very important to you as well, who are unable to do that, who will almost certainly make you feel worse, not because they want to, they’re just not aware of how important that is to you, so be careful who you ask for feedback in the middle of a process. So one of the things I tried to do when I’m teaching a creative process or taking some students through a creative process is to talk openly about frustration, and just tell them to expect it, and to try and get them to be aware of how they behave in frustration because it’s an interesting learning, not just for creative processes but for everything that we do in life, we’re going to get frustration we all have frustrating moments, and how we deal with it defines us. And it’s easy to start blaming other people and complaining about it. We all do that, I’m not gonna say I don’t, but it’s not the thing that is going to get us to move on to the next level, get the piece of art finished or the company or whatever else. So it’s interesting to bear in mind that there are really lots of times in the creative process where you could become frustrated and that we’re constantly overcoming and so if you think about it in the very beginning, you could just not get started at all. We have 1000s of ideas, and yet many people don’t even take the first step to take action. So most people quit, even before they start. So if you’ve started a creative process, you’re already winning, you’re already doing something that is different and new. And you’re trying to make a change. When the initial optimism has died down and the excitement of the idea, it gets hard. Most of us quit then this is where I find it really hard, I’m very good at dealing with new things, creating new things, making it fun and you know big launch and great and all new. I’m not very good at the day to day stuff, I can easily lose track of things lose interest. And it’s still part of a creative process, it’s just a long term creative process so in those long term processes. I find it easy for me to lose interest and there I have to kind of be very strict with myself to keep myself on track. If you work really really hard, and then you look at what you’ve done and what you’ve created. You feel disappointed, and it’s easy to quit, then it’s easy to sort of imagine what you’ve done is better than it is and then you come back and look at it you think actually it’s a bit shit.


22:59  And that is a horrible moment, and it’s easy to sort of walk away from that last final push where you need to be in a design thinking phase for example you’re reiterating you’re doing another prototype of it that will be a better prototype, but you can’t do that unless you continue unless you sort of ride that wave of frustration. And then when we see what we’ve created as a reflection of ourselves. We can often blame ourselves for the quality of that project. And that can be especially looking back in hindsight, so I have a lot of pictures around my studio that I’ve done over the course of the last few years. And when I look at some of them that I’ve done a few years ago I looked at them doing that shit and I can easily get into something that’s actually quite negative and they’re in my studio because I haven’t sold it because I haven’t tried to sell them because I don’t feel they’re good enough but I don’t want to paint over them, either because they’re a testament to the process that I’ve been through. So, if life is a process of life is a creative process, there are many moments of frustration, and those of us who desire to be successful in whatever way we define that, Whether that’s being happy, whether that’s having friends being supported being respected, whether it’s having lots of money, lots of things. Any of those tend to need to find a way to overcome, and deal with frustration and creative processes can be really helpful in doing that because we can essentially take ourselves through them, and if we don’t complete some of them, it doesn’t really matter. So definitely downplayed the part of resilience, a little bit and I’ve done that on purpose because I’ve been thinking recently, and recently over the last few years that resilience is you know great and it’s got me through a lot, it’s gonna get a lot of people through a lot, but it’s not the most joyful, or fun trait to have. And I was thinking about this a little bit and one of the things that got me thinking more about it was a meme that I saw on my friend Jonathan’s Facebook page which was shared by a filmmaker in the US called Zandashé Leah Brown. And she said, “I dream have never been called resilient again in my life. I’m exhausted by strength. I want support I want softness I want ease. I want to be amongst kids not patted on the back for how well I take a hit or for how many” she I think, is talking about that in the context of Black Lives Matter, and I don’t want to compare myself with anything that she has gone through at all, but I just read that and thought Yes, that’s so how I feel right now. I don’t want to be resilient anymore. I wouldn’t be able to do it but you know I don’t want that to be the main thing. So, strength is something interesting, and we could talk a lot about how you learn from adversity.

26:10  But I think in a creative process. It’s about trying to hold both strength and resilience. And also this softness and openness. And that is something that is tough to do for oneself and tough to do for other people as well, probably easier for other people, distribution itself, but I just wanted to share that because I know that these memes come on and you think that some of them are really silly and they don’t, they don’t impact you at all, but others you just see it and think, Well, I feel like that. So I hope this episode was interesting, it’s kind of sharing my frustration my moments of frustration and trying to distance myself a little bit from it because when I teach storytelling, I always say to people, you know, if you’re in a moment, pain and difficulty, That’s not the moment to share the story publicly, this is not a therapy session. So, I’m not sharing this as a therapy session. I’m trying to share it as a learning that it happens to resolve, we go through these moments of deep frustration in creative processes, and it’s part of the process more than that. It is the essence of the process itself, in order to make something that is truly different that’s truly new that’s truly innovative. We need to have gone through this moment of self doubt even where we’re not sure that what we’re doing is really what fits because we can’t expect other people to definitely like what we do when we’re doing something that’s new and different. So if you’re taking those steps and you’re doing something that’s a little bit different, outside of any kind of comfort zone or expectations, there’s gonna be more and more frustration, and it’s more difficult to deal with mentally as well. So I think the best way of dealing with it mentally, is to just be conscious of it and accept it and get on with it. There’s obviously a lot more psychology behind the cameras a lot more support that you can get on this kind of thing, but all I wanted to do with this episode was to draw attention to it, and say yes creative process is joyful. Yes, it’s about play, but it’s also about frustration and when that happens we need to be ready to embrace that as well. So needless to say my storage challenge is not running this week, but it will be running next week starting on the 10th of October, and I would love it if you signed up for it. It is a really useful resource for you, whether you’re looking to change careers or just talk about what you do or inspire other people will help you to think about your own personal stories and make sense of them. If you got this far thanks.

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